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Electronic Educational Toys, Computers, and TV

We live in an electronic world, and parents of young children have decisions to make about that.

Do we jump in when they are babies and provide the newest electronic toys for our children? The toy manufacturers say we should, all in the name of education. What about computer programs and TV designed for the very young? We are told they are educational. The reasoning is to expose them when they are very young so that they grow up computer literate and able to know their way around the gadgets that fill our world.

The high tech baby approach needs no introduction because electronics are heavily promoted. And even if you’ve decided to step away from the buzz, your child’s friends and the gift givers in his life may be on board. If Fischer-Price sells baby iPad cases and apps, it must be ok, right?

If you choose high tech, your young child may appear to learn a few things because of his educational toys. But, if you wait until he’s older, the same thing will happen.

So, what is he missing out on while he’s zoned in on the screen, whether it’s computer or TV? He’s not interacting with others, and basically, he’s not watching the world go by. There has been some concern that young children who spend most of their day watching a screen may be learning much less than the child who lives a more unplugged life and is experiencing so many things as an active participant.

That is why a study that two German pediatricians did was of interest to me. They studied 2,000 preschool children (ages 5-6) before they started school. The children were asked to draw a person. Based on the drawings, the researchers identified high and low performing children.

The drawings [] showed startling differences between kids who watched little or no TV with those who watched more than 3 hours a day. Their findings? We hardly need them after looking at the pictures, but here are a few comments:

“Frequent television viewing appears to lead to a significant retardation of the development of comprehension. . .”

“. . .certain visual perceptive abilities – and related cognitive development – appear to atrophy or be hindered by frequent television viewing and/or excessive video-game playing.”

Is one study or even a few, enough? Perhaps not. But it should give us something to think about and perhaps think twice before we encourage excess screen/electronic time for our little ones. It’s one thing to need a bit of help and to find what appears to be the best choice for a short time when we need our child safely occupied. We’ve all been in that position.

It’s a whole different situation to be actively looking for electronics in the name of education. If that’s your reason, you might consider fewer electronics even if they are promoted as being educational, and opt for the time honored approach that we know works: open ended toys along with plenty of outside play, and of course books! One rule of thumb is that if the manufacturer needs to tell you it’s educational, it probably isn’t.

If you are looking for great ideas for unplugged educational fun for your young children, check out these fun ideas from…

*Karen Taylor provides regular homeschooling information and mentoring on Facebook, and she is the Directory of Cedar Life Academy, a Private School Satellite Program (PSP) for homeschoolers in California.

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